I was really looking forward to the fifth Temeraire book, Victory of Eagles. Using the Napoleonic Wars as a backdrop for her series, Naomi Novik injected some new life into the oldest cliché of the fantasy genre -- the dragons. Temeraire/His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, and Black Powder War earned the author the coveted John W. Campbell Award. Writing with unmistakable flair, Novik created something truly special. And though expectations were high, Empire of Ivory was everything it needed to be, and Novik set the bar even higher for what was to come.
Following the events at the end of Empire of Ivory, Will Laurence has been jailed for treason. For his part, Temeraire has been consigned to the breeding grounds in Wales. Having consolidated his stranglehold on the rest of Europe, Napoleon is now ready to begin his invasion of Great Britain. When the time finally comes, no one can stop the French forces from crossing the English Channel and planting the eagle standard on British soil. While Admiral Nelson and his ships are away to deal with Copenhagen, it appears that nothing can stop Napoleon from conquering England. Laurence's prison ship is sunk during the initial attack, and he washes ashore in the vicinity of Dover. A traitor and a fugitive, he'll begin a desperate search for his dragon companion. Unhappy with the dreadfully boring life of the breeding grounds while a war is being fought, Temeraire will rally a disparate band of dragons to fend off the invaders. Once reunited with his dragon, Laurence is given the chance to die in battle, or else be hung if he somehow manages to survive. But Temeraire has other plans for his captain. . .
Similar to each new season of Survivor, it appears that Naomi Novik means to visit different locales in every Temeraire installment. In Victory of Eagles the author takes us to Wales, Scotland, and all over the English countryside. I found it very ingenious how Novik tackles the logistics involved in having dragons around.
As was the case with its predecessors, Victory of Eagles builds on various existing storylines. We begin to see how Temeraire's time in China has influenced his way of thinking, and it has surprising repercussions in this book. On the downside, the novel doesn't echo with as much depth as Empire of Ivory. I felt that the fourth volume took the series up a notch or two, but in some regards Victory of Eagles doesn't follow through with as much panache.
Although Novik's latest is as fun and entertaining as the previous four Temeraire novels, there seems to be a few hints that the series might be losing a little steam. To say that Victory of Eagles is disappointing would be a lie. And yet, with Novik "graduating" to hardcover in North America, I must conceded that I was expecting more. After five volumes, the originality which so took the genre by storm a while back is starting to wear off a bit. Hence, I feel that the author must really kick it into gear and bring the series to a new level. Otherwise, for all its originality, I'm afraid that these books could become more or less formulaic and episodic in style and tone, which is a concern I've had from the start. In addition, the short length of each novel might become an issue now that they will henceforth be published in hardback.
Now, Naomi Novik has demonstrated time and again that she has quite a few surprises up her sleeve. So I'm convinced that she can up her game in the next volume. In all honesty, though, I feel that the sixth installment could make or break the series. Oh, most of us are hooked, and we'll keep on reading regardless. But the next one should tell us if we're looking forward to a proliferation of sequels whose pertinence could be put into question, or if Laurence and Temeraire will remain the most interesting, if unlikely, duo in fantasy.
Victory of Eagles is another good read, but it doesn't quite live up to the expectations generated by Empire of Ivory.
The final verdict: 7.75/10